It’s 2023, and educated people everywhere seek opportunities that offer career growth and resources for a good lifestyle. This sentiment is common across genders, and age groups.

After fighting years of patriarchy, women have finally made a place for themselves in the corporate world. But is it as rosy as it seems?

Working is not an option but necessary for both men and women to mitigate the rising costs and sustain a healthy lifestyle.

Despite the laws in place for women's safety and security at the workplace, women still face many challenges at their workplaces. However, many women face reduced consequences. This is not the case for all women.

With International Women’s Day approaching, let’s go through the challenges faced by women in the workplace to date.

  1. Pay Disparity
  2. Sexual harassment
  3. Pregnancy discrimination
  4. Imposter syndrome
  5. Lack of equal opportunities
  6. Difficult to overcome Career gap/ Rejoining the workforce
  7. Ignorance and lack of sensitivity
  8. Being asked the wrong questions in interviews

Pay Disparity

Gender disparity indicates the difference in pay between men and women in the workforce.

Civilsdaily noted that India has the highest gender pay gap.

While the World Inequality Report of 2022 noted that men earn 82% of the labor income while women earn 18% of it.

This has been confirmed by the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Reports of 2022, which places India at 135 out of 146 nations in terms of gender disparity.

This indicates that there is a pressing need for comprehensive measures to bridge the gap and create a more equitable working environment for women.

Steps Towards Equality

  1. Equal Pay Advocacy: Organizations and policymakers must prioritize advocating for equal pay, ensuring that women receive remuneration commensurate with their skills and contributions.

  2. Transparent Salary Policies: Companies should adopt transparent salary policies that clearly outline the criteria for determining salaries. This can help eliminate biases and ensure fairness in compensation.

  3. Skill Development Initiatives: Encouraging skill development initiatives for women in the workforce can empower them to take on higher-paying roles, narrowing the pay gap over time.

  4. Promoting Women in Leadership: Breaking the glass ceiling requires a concerted effort to promote women into leadership positions. This not only addresses pay disparity but also fosters a more inclusive work culture.

Sexual harassment

The #MeToo movement brought to notice the horrifying episodes of sexual violence, harassment, and abuse across professional spheres.

Harassment doesn’t always have to be purely sexual. Unwelcome remarks, comments about a person's appearance or clothing, vulgar gestures, or even incessant staring are forms of harassment, that make for a hostile or intimidating work environment.

Despite the 2013 Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act in place, a data analysis compiled by Complykaro.com, an anti-sexual harassment advisory witnessed a rise in workplace sexual harassment complaints by 27% in March 2022.

Now, despite all the laws in place, Regrettably, victim blaming remains pervasive, contributing to a climate where perpetrators often face minimal consequences, while victims/survivors grapple with compromised careers. This perpetuates a cycle where many incidents of sexual harassment go unreported, leading female employees to make the drastic decision of switching organizations to escape the toxic environment.

Towards a Safer Workplace Culture

  1. Strengthening Legal Enforcement: While legislative frameworks exist, there's a need to reinforce their implementation to ensure swift and stringent action against perpetrators.

  2. Fostering Supportive Workplaces: Companies must prioritize creating a culture that not only condemns harassment but also provides support mechanisms for victims. This includes confidential reporting channels and counseling services.

  3. Educational Initiatives: Promoting awareness and education about different forms of harassment is crucial. Training programs can empower employees to identify, report, and prevent incidents effectively.

  4. Challenging Stereotypes: Addressing the root causes of harassment involves challenging gender stereotypes and fostering a workplace culture that values diversity, equality, and respect.

Pregnancy discrimination

The Maternity Benefit Act, Sec. 5(3), stands as a beacon of progress, mandating a minimum of 14 weeks of paid leave for new mothers. However, despite this legal safeguard, the intersection of pregnancy and career advancement remains a challenge for women.

Women continue to grapple with apprehension about starting a family due to the adverse impact it can have on their professional trajectories.

Regrettably, the workplace is not always a sanctuary during this transformative period. Unfair treatment manifests through stereotypes, intrusive comments, and, notably, a dearth of relevant projects being assigned to expectant or new mothers.

Overcoming Stereotypes and Biases

  1. Combatting Stereotypes: It's imperative to challenge and dismantle stereotypes that pigeonhole women into predefined roles based on their family planning choices. A woman's decision to start a family should not limit her career aspirations.

  2. Fostering Inclusive Work Cultures: Companies must actively work towards fostering inclusive environments that embrace diversity, recognizing that employees have multifaceted lives that contribute to their professional identities.

  3. Embracing Equality in Project Assignments
    Project Allocation Equity: Ensuring that expectant or new mothers are not sidelined when it comes to project assignments is crucial. Equality in opportunities fosters an environment where career growth is not hindered by family planning decisions.

  4. Flexible Work Arrangements: Empowering women with flexible work arrangements during and after pregnancy can help maintain a balance between professional responsibilities and personal life.

Imposter syndrome

Let's first understand what is imposter syndrome, it is a self-doubting tendency that leads an individual to feel skeptical and underserving of their accomplishments.

A 2020 KPMG study revealed that almost 75% of female executives across industries have faced imposter syndrome. While almost 47% of female executives were in disbelief about reaching their level of success.

Research indicates that imposter syndrome disproportionately affects female professionals when compared to their male counterparts. Societal pressures, cultural expectations, and prevailing gender stereotypes contribute to this phenomenon. Women often find themselves more hesitant to acknowledge their accomplishments and may downplay their abilities due to these external factors.

Breaking Free from Societal Constraints

  1. Promoting Confidence Building: Companies should actively invest in programs that promote confidence building among female employees. Mentorship programs, leadership training, and networking opportunities can play a crucial role in fostering self-assurance.

  2. Challenging Gender Stereotypes: Addressing and challenging gender stereotypes is pivotal in creating a workplace where individuals are evaluated based on their skills and contributions rather than conforming to preconceived notions.

Bridging the Confidence Gap

  1. Encouraging Job Applications: Women often feel more apprehensive about applying for positions, even when they meet most requirements. Cultivating a culture that encourages and supports women in pursuing opportunities will help bridge the confidence gap.

  2. Mentorship and Peer Support: Establishing mentorship programs and peer support networks can provide a valuable resource for women to navigate professional challenges. Having mentors who have faced and overcome imposter syndrome can be particularly beneficial.

Lack of equal opportunities

In many organizations, men still are apprehensive about having a female boss. Women are still underrepresented at every level, especially in managerial and C-suite roles.

Deloitte Global's Women in Boardroom report of 2022 stated that an average of 19.7% of board seats are held by women globally while in India, only 3.6% of women hold the boards' chairs.

Overcoming Biases in Leadership

  1. Addressing Unconscious Bias: Organizations need to actively address unconscious biases that contribute to the reluctance of accepting female leaders. Training programs and awareness initiatives can play a crucial role in dismantling ingrained stereotypes.

  2. Promoting Diversity and Inclusion: It's essential for companies to not only promote gender diversity but also ensure an inclusive environment where women are given equal opportunities to thrive in leadership roles.

The Power of Mentorship and Role Models

  1. Establishing Mentorship Programs: Mentorship programs can provide invaluable support to aspiring female leaders. Having successful women leaders as mentors can offer guidance and inspiration, helping others navigate their professional journeys.

  2. Showcasing Success Stories: Highlighting success stories of women in leadership positions within the organization can serve as powerful motivators. Visibility of accomplished female leaders can challenge stereotypes and inspire the next generation of women leaders.

Difficult to overcome Career gap/ Rejoining the workforce

Getting back on the workforce wagon can be challenging for all, the lengthier the unemployment period, the more severe the penalty becomes. Economists have termed it as 'Unemployment scarring'.

However, Payscale's sheds light on a concerning reality – the penalty for extended unemployment is disproportionately greater for women compared to men. Even when all factors are held constant, the controlled pay gap widens based on the duration of an unemployed candidate's job search.

Overcoming Gender-Based Penalties

  1. Advocating for Inclusive Hiring Practices: Companies must actively work towards adopting inclusive hiring practices that recognize the skills and experiences individuals bring, irrespective of their gender or the length of their career break.

  2. Supporting Return-to-Work Programs: Organizations can implement return-to-work programs specifically designed to ease the transition for individuals reentering the workforce. These programs can provide training, mentorship, and resources to help bridge the gap.

Closing the Gender Pay Gap in Reentry

  1. Transparent Pay Policies: Companies should ensure transparency in pay policies, particularly when considering candidates returning from a career break. Clear guidelines on how prior experience and skills are valued can contribute to fair compensation.

  2. Flexible Work Arrangements: Embracing flexible work arrangements can facilitate a smoother reentry process, allowing individuals to balance professional commitments with other responsibilities they may have.

Ignorance and lack of sensitivity

There is so little discussed related to female health that most men in our society are unaware of the pain most women undergo during their menstrual cycle. Hence, the snide comments like, "Why are you so cranky? Is it that time of the month?" and the likes.

Many men, even today, pass such comments when their female colleagues present their opinion. These remarks not only showcase a lack of understanding but also contribute to a culture of disregard for women's experiences.

Challenging Stereotypes and Fostering Empathy

  1. Educational Initiatives: It's crucial to initiate educational programs that shed light on female health, including the physical and emotional aspects of menstrual cycles. This can help bridge the knowledge gap and foster empathy in the workplace.

  2. Open Conversations: Encouraging open conversations about women's health can contribute to a more inclusive environment. Breaking the silence around these topics helps dismantle the stigma and dispel misconceptions.

Empowering Women to Speak Up

  1. Promoting Confidence: Organizations should actively work towards promoting confidence among female employees. This includes creating a supportive culture where individuals feel empowered to express their opinions without fear of judgment based on stereotypes.

  2. Zero Tolerance for Inappropriate Comments: Establishing a zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate comments ensures that the workplace remains a respectful and inclusive space. Consistent enforcement of such policies sends a clear message that belittling comments will not be tolerated.

Being asked the wrong questions in interviews

Imagine walking into an interview and being asked, “Are you planning to get married?”, “Do you plan on starting a family in the next year?”, “Why are your social media handles private?”, “Would you need a long vacation anytime in the upcoming 6 months?”, etc.

If this sounds bizarre to you, you have been lucky, because this is the reality for many women jobseekers. These are some of the most inappropriate yet commonly asked questions.

These are a woman's personal choices, and discussing this with a stranger is uncomfortable and unwanted. Unfortunately, for many women jobseekers, this isn't a hypothetical scenario – it's a stark reality.

Eradicating Invasive Interview Practices

  1. Promoting Inclusive Hiring: Organizations need to actively promote inclusive hiring practices that focus on an individual's qualifications, skills, and experiences rather than their personal life choices.

  2. Educating Interviewers: Training interviewers to refrain from asking intrusive questions is crucial. Workshops and guidelines can help create awareness about inappropriate queries and encourage a more respectful hiring process.

Acknowledging Personal Boundaries

  1. Empowering Candidates: Jobseekers, irrespective of their gender, should feel empowered to set boundaries during interviews. Companies can contribute to this by creating an environment where candidates are comfortable expressing discomfort with inappropriate questions.

  2. Establishing Standardized Interview Protocols: Implementing standardized interview protocols that strictly prohibit invasive inquiries helps ensure a fair and respectful hiring process for everyone.

Conclusion

Be the change you want to see in others. It has been seen innumerable times that women face the heat for speaking up against the miscreants, but don’t step back.

It can feel intimidating once you start but be confident. Know that your decision to voice against the wrong will not just clear your conscience but also encourage other women working in your organization to come out and speak up.

Here’s wishing more power and success to the amazing ladies in the workforce!

Women's Day Career Insights